Italian Days Food Tour, the Best Bologna Food Tour
One of my favorite things to do in any new place I visit is to take a food tour. Most of the food tours I’ve been on involve multiple stops to restaurants with a guide that also shares some history and interesting facts about the city and/or restaurant – which I love. However, the food tour we did in Bologna was completely different from this template and in the best way!
Bologna is a city in Italy known for its fabulous regional Italian cuisine with many hearty comfort foods like tagliatelle al ragù and lasagne alla bolognese, some of which you’re bound to try on this Bologna food tour. But you’ll also get to experience the craft of making strictly regulated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the aging process of balsamic vinegar, the steps for perfect Italian prosciutto, and of course, eating lots and lots of fresh pasta.
Which Tour to Book?
There are many different food tours available to book in Bologna but we decided to book with Italian Days Food Tour for a number of reasons. The first is that there are a variety of stops along the way highlighting much of the region’s specialties. Another was that they provided transportation to all stops whereas many other tours required us to have our own vehicle. While we do a lot of road trips in the countries we visit, on this particular trip we were traveling by train in Italy and were glad to find a tour that would provide transportation from Bologna city center.
Things to Know About the Italian Days Food Tour
- You won’t need a car. As I said, for some food tours in Bologna, you need your own car to drive to each location but this tour has 6-seater vans that will pick you up from your hotel and take you to each of the stops on this Bologna food tour.
- Wear closed-toe shoes. You will be provided with booties but I recommend wearing closed-toe shoes because the factories have a lot of machinery and the surfaces can be slippery.
- Wear comfortable clothing. You’re going to be eating A LOT on this food tour. So I recommend wearing something comfortable and stretchy!
- The tour is all day. This specific food tour lasts all day (6am-5pm). We didn’t get back to the city center until around 6pm so make sure you don’t make any other strict plans in Bologna the same day you do the food tour.
- There are bathroom stops along the way. At most of the stops you’ll have access to the bathroom so don’t worry too much about enjoying your prosecco.
- You can most likely still enjoy this tour if you’re a vegetarian or have food allergies. Italian Days Food Tour was extremely accommodating to my allergies, even ordering special pastries and preparing special pasta options for me to enjoy. Just make sure you let them know ahead of time so they can let you know if they are able to make special preparations.
Stop 1: Bologna Food Tour – Parmegiano Reggiano Factory
After getting picked up in Bologna outside of our hotel we made our way to our first stop, a Parmegiano Reggiano factory. The factory we visited was San Silvestro, which is a medium size factory that makes nearly 4 million wheels of cheese each year!
One thing I didn’t know much about prior to this tour is the strict regulations that parmesan factories follow. In order to be true Parmigiano Reggiano, it must have a DOP seal which stands for protected designation of origin. Because of this, parmesan is only made in five counties in Italy – Mantua, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna. Within these counties, there are 262 factories.
On the tour, we learned that it takes 160 gallons of milk in order to make a wheel of cheese – talk about a lot of milk! But surprisingly because of the aging process, parmesan is virtually lactose-free! The cheese is cooked twice in large vats to skim the whey off the top which is then used to make ricotta and whey protein powder. Nothing goes to waste.
After letting the cheese rest in cheesecloth the 220 lb ball is cut and formed into the wheel where it sits in a saltwater solution for 18 days in order to allow the saltwater to penetrate the center of the cheese. Another interesting fact, by law, the parmesan has to be a wheel of the same shape and size, the only difference is on the stamp added to the rind of the cheese which varies by factory number.
After sitting in its salt bath, the cheese is removed and set on a tray in a temperature and humidity-controlled room where it is flipped and polished every 10 days so it doesn’t stick to the tray or mold. When the parmesan reaches the minimum aging process of 12 months, it is inspected by someone whose sole job is to check the quality of the parmesan before it is approved for sale. They do this by listening to how the cheese sounds when hit with a small wooden mallet and listening for air bubbles.
During the tour, we visited all factory areas including where the cheese is initially made, the salt brine tanks, and the aging rooms. In the aging room, you can find wheels of parmesan from many different years. In fact, the oldest parmesan wheel at the time (21 years) recently sold for €3,800! Most of the wheels you see here are around €800-850 for a whole wheel.
After the tour, we tried some of the fresh ricotta and moved to our next destination where we would end up trying some parmesan!
Stop 2: Bologna Food Tour – Balsamic Vinegar
Our second stop was located at a small, family-owned balsamic vineyard where we would learn more about another Italian staple, balsamic vinegar.
But before we began that tour we enjoyed a breakfast of sweet and savory pastries provided by a local bakery alongside some of the delicious parmesan that we saw on our factory tour. We first tried a 13-month cheese which was creamy and buttery followed by a 36-month cheese which was more dry and nutty. Both were absolutely delicious! If you want to take some parmesan home, don’t worry, you’ll get the chance to purchase some before leaving the tour (we bought two large pieces to take home!).
While eating our breakfast, one of the owners of Acetaia Cavedoni, the balsamic factory we were visiting, began telling us more about their family-owned operation. Acetaia Cavedoni is actually one of the oldest balsamic producers in the country. It started in 1860 and is currently operated by the 7th generation family.
In Italy, you’ll find two kinds of balsamic, IGP (protected geographic indication) balsamic where the grapes can be from different counties or even other countries. In addition, ingredients can be any variation of cooked grape juice, water, and wine vinegar in any order. It is minimally aged for 60 days. This is typically used for everyday use such as cooking, on salads, pizza, parmesan, etc.
The other type of balsamic is DOP balsamic which, as you might suspect, the rules are very strict. DOP balsamic is only made in Modena with grapes that come from Modena and the only ingredient used is cooked grape juice. The minimum aging process is 12 years and is only sold in one shape and size bottle. It is typically only brought out for special occasions or for finishing. This balsamic is so regulated that only 62 families currently produce DOP balsamic and we were lucky enough to try some!
Here at Acetaia Cavedoni, we were able to try a number of different balsamic vinegar that they produce including a 5-year-old IGP, 7-year-old IGP, 16-year-old DOP, 32-year-old DOP, and Saba which is a sweet balsamic made with cooked grape juice, clove, and cinnamon perfect for ricotta, desserts, pancakes, and more! We ended up purchasing some of their IGP balsamic, which is very high quality compared to some of our grocery store balsamic as well as a bottle of Saba since it is a unique family recipe.
Then we visited the batteria which contains barrels of aging balsamic. At Acetaia Cavedoni the oldest batteria is over 160 years old started by the founder. If you’re wondering how you can get your hands on some of that balsamic, it’s not easy! Only 4 bottles are sold every 2 years and are certified back to 1860. The cost is €550 a bottle.
One thing I didn’t realize about balsamic is that during the aging process, the barrels are left open for oxidation but covered with a cloth over the hole in the barrel. Once the balsamic is removed from the barrel, it no longer ages.
If you want some delicious balsamic you can actually purchase from Acetaia Cavedoni online, but if you want to find something more accessible here’s a little tip we learned for buying IGP balsamic! When purchasing, make sure cooked grape juice is the first ingredient, and only water or wine vinegar should be next!
Stop 3: Bologna Food Tour – Proscuitto Factory
The next stop on the Italian Days Food Tour was a prosciutto factory where we learned about the aging process of prosciutto. Unlike the strict regulations with parmesan and balsamic, prosciutto is a bit more lenient, often the pigs are imported from Poland and Belgium and only processed in the factories here.
However, there are still some rules to be followed. The pigs have to be 160 kg, no more no less than a few ounces, and the minimum aging process is 14 months. A mixture of lard, rice flour, salt, white pepper, and black pepper is basted to the leg to preserve and keep the meat tender as it continues to age. This tour was shorter than the others but still highly informative!
Stop 4: Bologna Food Tour – Traditional Italian Family-Style Lunch
Our last stop on this Bologna food tour was right next door to the prosciutto factory where you’ll get to enjoy a family-style Italian lunch. In my opinion, this is the most special part of the entire tour.
Of course, you’ll get to try prosciutto in a variety of aging processes and seasonings. On our tour, there was chili-coated, 14-month, 18-month, and DOP 18-month prosciutto. But even better is the plethora of fresh pasta, desserts, and cheeses you’ll get to try.
After trying the prosciutto we were given a variety of stunning appetizers including a burrata and tomato salad, grilled peppers with parsley and garlic, and a Bologna-style bruschetta with fresh basil.
Then came the fresh pasta and omg, did Italian Days Food Tour deliver. We enjoyed a variety of tortellini and tortelloni. Yes, there is a difference – mostly related to filling and size, plus verde lasagna bolognese and vegetarian lasagna. All were terrific but I will be thinking about the butter and sage tortelloni for the rest of my life.
Then, of course, we had dessert. I always say there is a second stomach for dessert and lemme tell ya, I needed one because I definitely indulged in pasta like it was my last meal. The desserts included a black forest cake and a nut-free Italian citrus cream cake.
After our meal, we sang some Italian songs on karaoke and took lots of pictures with our new friends because you’re bound to make some on this trip before packing up and heading back to Bologna city center.
This Bologna food tour is one of the most special tours we’ve been on to date and I highly recommend you add it to your Bologna itinerary. Now excuse me while I go enjoy some of the balsamic I purchased with some delicious parmesan cheese!